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The Curriculum for Wales defines cynefin as ‘the place where we belong, where the people and landscape around us are familiar, and the sights and sounds are reassuringly recognisable’. My sense of cynefin as a second-generation migrant into Wales has developed and I have found my place by acknowledging my past and looking to my future.

Growing up in the Gwent Valleys

I look back on my early life in the Valleys and talk to my own children with a sense of sadness as well as joy. Happiness was walking in the mountains near the village where I grew up, escaping the community where we lived as a Welsh Pakistani family. The Welsh countryside is idyllic and I found peace there, until it was time to go home. Home is a place where you should feel secure, but I didn’t feel safe in my home due to the relentless racially focused anti-social behaviour we experienced. School was an isolating environment for me as I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. This had an immense impact on my sense of belonging and made me question who I was and where I belonged. I lived a double life: as a Welsh schoolgirl by day, and at night, Zara the Pakistani Muslim girl, eating traditional food, wearing traditional clothes. I would listen to stories on the partition of India from my father who was one of the estimated 119,700 Pakistani migrants who came to the UK in the 1960s (Luthra & Platt, 2017). My father was my champion and proud that I was the first in the family to attend university. The ‘Welsh Zara’, was the one who pretended to fit in to the predominantly white society that was around her, hiding the ‘other Zara’ because it was frightening to be different, and standing out meant being racially abused. Books were my hiding place where I would get lost in ‘white’ storylines and remove myself from my identity crisis. Fast forward 20 years or so, I am now able to reflect and appreciate my identity and self-worth and question why my school didn’t celebrate my diversity. I began my journey into teaching to make the changes that I felt were needed.

‘School was an isolating environment for me as I didn’t see anyone who looked like me. This had an immense impact on my sense of belonging and made me question who I was and where I belonged.’

Initial teacher education (ITE) and support for Black and racially minoritised (BRM) teachers

As an ITE student, I was again a hijab-wearing minority. However, I was more comfortable sharing information on my culture, race and religion. During a tutorial session, I shared some insights and a group of Welsh students showed interest and could not believe their own lack of knowledge and understanding. I reflected on this experience and it reaffirmed why I so desperately wanted to become a teacher and how much I could support staff, parents and pupils to understand diversity. Researching my own heritage and the partition of India, I learned how the legacies of partition are still apparent today, along with the associated impact on belonging as a result of displacement. (Talbot & Singh, 2009).

I appreciate the positive impact my father made on the Welsh economy and community during his lifetime in Wales. I realised children are not taught these wonderful stories and histories, which is why the new Curriculum for Wales is so important. My ITE experiences of sitting in lecture rooms with predominantly white student teachers disheartened me. Twenty years on, schools still will look the same. Research shows there are only 1.3 per cent of teachers identifying as being from a BRM background in Wales (Davis et al., 2023). In 2021, I stumbled upon a conference run by the BAMEed Network Wales and discovered like-minded educators who had had similar experiences and thoughts about their cynefin to my own. Going forward, I would recommend more mentorship for diverse teachers to retrain, or upskill to reach leadership roles and more incentives to get them into teaching. School policies on anti-racism are vital to ensure an equitable education for all. I would encourage a curriculum which is reflective of all the communities in Wales to ensure cynefin is truly felt.


Davis, S., Haughton, C., Chapman, S., Okeke, R., Yafele, A., Yu, K., & Smith, M. (2023). The recruitment and retention of teachers of colour in Wales. An ongoing conundrum? Curriculum Journal, 34, 118–137.

Luthra, R., & Platt, L. (2017). The changing face of Pakistani migration to the United Kingdom. AAPI Nexus Policy Practice and Community, 15(2), 15–56.

Talbot, I., & Singh. G. (2009). The partition of India. Cambridge University Press.